Dr. Dina Badie, Assistant Professor of Politics and International Studies, recently published her book, entitled, After Saddam: American Foreign Policy and the Destruction of Secularism in the Middle East. The rise of the Islamic State has garnered much attention and her book provides a foundational text for understanding its historic roots, grounded in American missteps in the region. Below is an excerpt of the introduction, which sets the tone for contextualizing terrorism in a regional context:
In 2014, Iraq suffered 9,929 fatalities directly caused by terrorism: the highest in recorded history for a single country. Iraq’s casualties alone accounted for 30% of terrorism fatalities globally. The worldwide trend also broke records in 2014, with an unprecedented 32,685 deaths caused by terrorist acts internationally. Of all casualties, nearly 80% occurred in just five countries: Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria. Boko Haram and the Islamic State (ISIS) topped the list as the two most violent groups. The year 2015 became the second deadliest year on record for global terrorism but Iraq maintained its position as the state with the highest number of terrorism-related fatalities for the eleventh consecutive year.
Americans often think of terrorism as a religious or civilizational problem that targets the West but the numbers tell a markedly different story. In fact, Muslims have borne the brunt of extremist brutality; out of nearly 30,000 deaths by terrorism in 2015, only 313, or 0.01%, were victims in OECD countries while the top five were all Muslim-majority nations. Over the last fifteen years, the vast majority – over 95% – of terrorist attacks have occurred in states engaged in violent conflict. With Iraq consumed by war since 2003, its top position is consistent with global trends.
In Iraq and elsewhere, terrorist groups have appeared and disappeared over the last several decades but the tactic has remained and new groups continuously overtake defunct terrorist organizations. That is, the scourge of violence transcends any single group. While the Middle East does not have a monopoly on terrorism, it has produced and fallen victim to some of the most violent non-state organizations in modern history. The Islamic State, which caused the greatest number of fatalities in 2015, is the richest, more organized terrorist group to have ever existed. But the violence is a symptom of a problem much larger than ISIS.
Ultimately, the book points to serious American missteps in the Middle East, spanning several administrations, that can account for the tragedies that have befallen the region. Badie points to the Iraq War – including the invasion, surge, and attempt at democratization – as the catalyst that ushered in a phase of sectarian tension that has characterized the region’s security structure since 2003. Specifically, it investigates the manner in which U.S. policy in Iraq artificially shifted the balance of power in the country, and the region, and brought religious identities to the foreground. Deposing Saddam Hussein resulted in a new regional order that diminished the strength of secular nationalism previously espoused by Saddam , elevated Iran and Saudi Arabia as regional rivals, and by implications, established a new ideological paradigm that privileged competing religious factions over secular ideals. The trend first manifested itself in Iraq during the American occupation with Iranian-backed Shiites fighting Saudi-supported Sunnis. A similar dynamic is evident in current regional wars in Syria and Yemen. By elevating particular groups through rhetorical, financial, and military support, civil conflicts in the Middle East reflect the ideologies behind the Saudi-Iranian rivalry. The book therefore looks beyond popular narratives of intractable, long-standing Sunni-Shia conflict to explain the source of current sectarian tension as a product of balance of power dynamics. It also helps to explain the fracturing of the region that created a ripe environment for groups like the Islamic State to capitalize on sectarian grievances.
Ultimately, After Saddam, seeks to illuminate the regional and human impacts of American foreign policy on those that are most directly affected. Instead of assessing U.S. policy on the basis of its consequences for the United States, its focus is on the regional implications that are likely to persist far into the future, long after America officially ends its ongoing operations.